Photo credit: Matt
Charles and Emma:
The Darwins’ Leap of Faith
Henry Holt and Company
by Willie Perdomo
Willie Perdomo: In
the course of your research, what was the most important
discovery you made?
The Origin of Species,
in the measured tone he did largely because he was married
to a religious woman and did not want to offend her
or her compatriots. In addition to that, Emma was his
best reader and editor. As she read his book she did
not ask him to soften his argument (even though it essentially
took God out of creation); instead, she helped him strengthen
it by suggesting edits that made his prose stronger.
(She also cleaned up his spelling and punctuation.)
One has to wonder what this book, and his others, would
have read like if he had decided not to marry after
making his Marry/ Not Marry list that I open the book
with. Or if he had decided to marry someone else. It
is so important who you are married to, as I well (and
Of your three questions this is the
most difficult for me to answer because I made important
discoveries constantly as I got to know Charles Darwin
and Emma Wedgwood Darwin. Practically no day went by
without my shouting “eureka!” at a discovery.
(This happens when you are using almost entirely primary
sources and putting together the puzzle pieces yourself.
A dream!) But I guess the overall most important discovery
I made was the tremendous influence Emma had on Darwin's
work. He wrote his great book,
WP: I am an NBF BookUp
instructor, and most of my club members would list romance
and mystery as their favorite genres. Were you worried
that you might isolate young adult readers by delving
into historical fiction?
Romance Books (www.booklistonline.com).
My next nonfiction project might just be a real-life
mystery, thanks in part to this question!
One always takes a chance when writing nonfiction. Fiction
just seems sexier, easier to pick up and read. But I
love to write nonfiction (all that delicious research!)
and I had a story to tell, a story that grabbed my heart
and wouldn't let go. It was about two real people, and
I wanted to tell the truth, and the whole truth, so
I had no choice. But I wanted it to read like a novel,
and so I worked very hard to do that as I wrote the
book. I was immensely gratified when Booklist put it
in their top-ten list of
WP: Almost half of
the marriages in the United States end in divorce. Charles
and Emma lasted 43 faithful years. What do you think
modern-day newlyweds could learn from the union between
Charles and Emma Darwin?
I do think newlyweds (and oldyweds) could learn a lot
about love and marriage from Charles and Emma Darwin.
The two were very different people who had a loving,
close, happy marriage. Their biggest difference was
in their religious beliefs, though they also had a practical
division: Emma was a slob and Charles was incredibly
neat and orderly. They made their marriage work by talking
to each other about their differences, listening to
each other, and respecting each other's point of view.
And they put their marriage first, above all else. Even
after the death of their daughter, Annie, a death that
broke both of their hearts and could have broken up
their marriage, they assured each other of the importance
of their marriage. "We must be more and more to
each other, my dear wife," Charles wrote to Emma.
And she wrote to him, "You must remember that you
are my prime treasure (and always have been).”
Willie Perdomo is
the author Where a Nickel Costs a Dime and
Smoking Lovely, which received a PEN America
Beyond Margins Award. He has also been published in
The New York Times Magazine, Bomb, CENTRO Journal and
African Voices. His children's book, Visiting
Langston, received a Coretta Scott King Honor.
He has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Woolrich Fellow
in Creative Writing at Columbia University and is a
2009 fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for
the Arts. He is co-founder/publisher of Cypher Books.